In 1980 Pat Martino had a large portion of his left temporal lobe removed leaving him with amnesia. One of the most celebrated jazz guitarists of the time came out of surgery saying he “felt like a zombie”. He didn’t know his name, recognize his parents, or even know he was a musician.
He was able to reverse much of that memory loss by studying his old recordings and re-learning to play the guitar, emerging perhaps more of a virtuoso than before, someone who played with consistent joy and abandon until just a few years ago when a respiratory illness sidelined him.
Pat Martino died yesterday at the age of 77, living still in the South Philly house he grew up in. Coming up in Philly, Martino shared a music teacher with John Coltrane, who, it is said, used to buy Martino hot chocolate when he was strapped for cash. Years later, when George Benson, new in New York City, first heard Martino playing in a club there he said “if this is a sample of what New York is like, I’m getting out of here.” If you’re intimidating George Benson, you’re doing something right.
In 2008, when I was still learning my way around a camera (I’m still learning my way around a camera, tbh) I had the opportunity to shoot Pat Martino’s portraits in a studio between performances. He was an impeccable gentleman. Quiet, open and so well dressed. I complimented him on his scarf and he brightened noticeably. Then he told me they let him keep it after a photo shoot he’d done last week for Vogue Italia. NO PRESSURE. Anyway, this is my favourite shot from that session. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to witness his artistry and to take his photo.
Pat Martino leaves behind an unbelievable catalogue of music. If you’re looking for something to listen to today one of my all time favourites is Pat Martino Live at Yoshi’s featuring Billy Hart and Joey DeFrancesco. You’ll probably love it too.